Archive for November, 2008

When in doubt, ask a philosopher

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

In my research work, I tend to gravitate towards the rigorous end, digging for nuggets that can be verified. Sometimes that means I miss the most interesting questions: those to which the answers are found not by experimentation but by thinking and discussion.

I was delighted, therefore, to discover the Ask Philosophers website. Here you can ask a question that’s been bugging you, no matter how cosmic or etherial it may seem.

The site is clean, readable and ad-free. The answers are overwhelmingly lucid, carefully thought-out, jargon-free and well-presented. Dozens of professional philosophers participate.

There’s no guarantee that your question will be accepted, but I get the impression that any coherent question stands a good chance. Most of the accepted questions attract answers. Occasionally, more than one philosopher will contribute an answer.

There is no chance for outsiders to join in the discussion. In a way that’s a disappointment, because I’d love to explore some of these issues interactively. From a practical point of view though, it might be hard to maintain the quality of the site with broader participation.

There are several dozen philosophers answering questions, and over 2000 questions. The categories will give you an idea of the breadth of the site: abortion, animals, art, beauty, biology, business, children, color, consciousness, death, education, emotion, environment, ethics, euthanasia, existence, feminism, freedom, gender, happiness, history, identity, justice, knowledge, language, law, literature, logic, love, mathematics, medicine, mind, music, perception, philosophers, philosophy, physics, probability, profession, punishment, race, rationality, religion, science, sex, space, sport, suicide, time, truth, value and war.

So if you want to know what makes a word profane, or why drug-taking is tolerated for musicians but reviled for athletes, or whether you would be someone else if a different sperm had impregnated the egg from which you grew, then you know where to receive at least an educated guess and while away an hour or two.